November 2022

Here we are, 11/12ths of the way through 2022. I love this time of year. Honestly November and December are about the only part of the year I really love. We need to move back north so summer can once again be something I look forward to instead of dreading.

Big news for me this month is I broke down and ordered a Steam Deck. It hasn’t arrived yet; I guess it is my Christmas present to myself. I’m not even sure WHY I want one but it just got stuck in my head that it was a cool gadget I needed in my life. I haven’t really bought a ‘toy’ since the new consoles 2 years ago so I don’t feel TOO guilty about spending the money.

Last Month’s Games

Spiritfarer is still being played every once in a while. I wrote a post about why I’m more or less done with it, but I still take a poke at it every now and then.

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below got completed: here’s a post about that.

Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris has been dropped. I haven’t been able to shake off the ill will generated in the first part of the game.

Actually a lot of games have been dropped for no particular reason other than too many games, not enough time:
Fallout 3
Yakuza 0
Destiny 2
Cyberpunk 2077

New Games This Month

Dying Light 2 wound up warranting its own post. I have a complicated relationship with this game. In fact I finally had to uninstall it because I kept finding myself playing it even though I wasn’t enjoying it much and it was making my physically ill. Uninstalling it broke the cycle and I’m FREE!

You can pet the dog, so you know it’s a good game

Pentiment is a nifty little narrative adventure from Obsidian. It is (so far) all just talking to other characters so it is pretty chill. I really enjoy what I’ve played but that game play loop of just reading dialog is always a struggle for me. I always think “Heck, I should just read the book.” I do want to finish it, though. There’s been a murder and it must be solved.

Gotham Knights was a Black Friday purchase and despite my best efforts I’ve only put a short time into it. I’m enjoying it, but it is such early days I don’t feel qualified to say much about it.

And just at the very tail end of the month, I let Genshin Impact back into my life. 🙂

TV

Andor was great. Rogue One is my favorite ‘modern’ Star Wars movie and I really enjoyed the darker, more serious tone that Andor shared with that movie. Can’t wait for Season 2.

Winx: The Fate Saga was bad. Granted I’m not the target audience, but I’m kind of over these shows where some young person thinks they know every, and go off and do whatever they want, and wind up being the hero.

Star Trek Voyager is still voyaging. I think it generally has gotten better (I think we’re in Season 5 now?) but not consistently so. Some episodes are real clunkers.

Currently we’re watching Wednesday, which I expected to be a rather silly show, but has turned out to be kind of a dark dramedy and we are LOVING it. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s about Wednesday Addams of The Addams Family after she’s been sent away to boarding school for non-human types. Now that I think of it, Winx is about a teenage girl sent to boarding school for non-human types as well, but the two shows are night and day in terms of quality.

Reading

Nadda. I’m back to not really doing any reading. 🙁

And that’s November. Wow, that was a short recap, eh? Hope everyone has a great holiday season and I’ll be back with December’s recap next year! Har! A dad joke to finish things off!

Dying Light 2 Revisited

This post started as a section in my monthly recap for November but it got long enough I figured I’d better split it out on its own, in an attempt to keep the monthly recap a bit shorter.

I was pretty excited for Dying Light 2 when it came out last winter. I even pre-ordered it. Then it came out and it was pretty buggy and overall, I wasn’t that thrilled with it. Let me quote myself:

Anyway I could go on and on but I think you get the point. I expect Dying Light 2 to get polished and tweaked over the next few months, and I’ve decided that rather than play the worst version of the game now, it makes more sense to wait and play it maybe in summer or next fall. So I’m putting it back on the shelf for now.

So as predicted, here it is fall and I’m back. I’ve played a lot more of it than I did last winter, but I’m not even sure why because overall I don’t enjoy it all that much. Technically it has gotten better; much of the jank is gone and it runs nicely on the PS5, so that certainly helps. But I still have a litany of complaints, most of them fairly personal.

First, the gore factor. This is 100% on me. I knew going in that the game was going to be super-gory; it’s one of the title’s calling cards. I completely support and respect their decision to make a game like this but, that vibe is just no longer for me; it is just too much. I kind of feel the same way about DL2 as I did when I stopped watching The Walking Dead. Enough is enough, y’know? After a while the gore just starts to wear me down. Also it’s bad enough that @partpurple started commenting on it, and so I stopped playing when she was in the room.

Second, there’s a lot of facets that have to do with time pressure. You’re infected and any time you are out of the sunlight (UV light keeps you healthy) a timer starts ticking down and if it hits zero, it’s game over. Again, this is 100% me and what I do and do not like: I hate time pressures in my games. I am a slow and deliberate player (side note: there are endless zombies so being slow and deliberate wouldn’t really work even without the time pressure). There are a lot of side quests that are “complete this challenge in under x minutes” that I just refuse to do. Also, minor thing but there’s no way to abandon a quest so my journal is full of timer-based side-quests that I will never do.

Lastly, the first person stuff makes me queasy. Again, this is a Me thing; you might not have any issues at all. It’s a fairly minor issue when I am in control. The big problem happens during in-game cut scenes when you lose control of the camera and your view of the world starts flailing around. Our vision does not work like that for one thing, so it feels dumb to me. More importantly, it makes me feel really sick really fast. At times I had to look away from the screen. One night after a long session of this nonsense, the game made me so sick that the next day I still had a headache from it.

So that’s a lot of bitching. I keep deciding I’m done with it…but then I keep going back. I’m not sure if I’m hate-playing it or what. Maybe I just want to finish to say I finished, given how much time I’ve sunk into it. I can’t tell you. But I keep booting it up. It’s like scratching poison ivy. I know I shouldn’t but I keep finding myself doing it. Mind you, there are certainly satisfying moments. As gory as it is, the combat can be fun and some of the parkour stuff is delightful once you get the hang of it. The world is pretty interesting and the game looks really good.

Still though…the other day I started something new even though I hadn’t completed Dying Light 2 and I found myself slightly surprised that I didn’t get a headache while playing. My brain had started to associate “video games” with headaches and nausea thanks to DL2.

Maybe I should just put it on Easy difficulty and blast through what remains.

More about Spiritfarer

Regular readers (Hi mom!) know that I’ve had “cozy management game” Spiritfarer hovering around the back burner of my ‘currently playing’ stove {Wow, that really didn’t work, did it?} for a while now. This week I decided it was time to see if I wanted to finish it, or if I’m done with it.

A little more backstory: this game was on Xbox Game Pass and I only started playing it right before it left the service. I was having so much fun I bought it and then proceeded to not play it much. Because, just me being me.

Anyway over the last several nights I’ve gone back to it more seriously. The overall game loop is that you have a ship which is also basically a floating town (see header image). You sail around an ocean, visiting various islands in order to find spirits to bring on board. You then satisfy the needs of these spirits (often by building them a house on the boat, and then improving it), and eventually the spirits pass on to whatever comes next. Last night my first spirit left me and I think I might be done with Spiritfarer, myself.

Stella hugging one of the spirits
There’s a log of hugging going on!

This is one of those instances where I think it is an interesting game that I’m sure a LOT of people would enjoy, but it’s just not the right game for me. It is very, very chill. Very soothing. Soothing to the point where I sometimes literally start nodding off while playing. As someone who is perpetually tired, I’m generally in search of stimulation rather than soothing.

Most of my issues have to do with the pace of the game. You sail the ship, oh so very slowly, back and forth across the sea. When it gets dark your ship stops and you have to go and sleep to pass the night before you get going again. In theory while the ship is underway you can work on crafting but — and maybe I’m doing something wrong — but I find that takes up like 10% of my travel time. The rest of the time I’m just staring into space waiting to get to where I’m going.

Eventually you do unlock “Bus Stops” which are fast travel points, and that helps some. And just before I quit last night I crafted something that makes my ship travel 20% faster. Those might help but they also may have come too late for me. I’m just kind of bored. I go to a place, I gather some materials, I process them, I build a thing to make a spirit happy. Then I do the same thing again only with slightly better quality materials. As far as I know there is no fail state (maybe that’s what makes it cozy?) so there is no pressure or urgency. It is so very, very…relaxingzzzzz….

I also have to admit I was ‘stuck’ for a while and that may have just extended and slowed down the game beyond what was intended by the devs. When you first start the game you are limited in what parts of the ocean you can explore. By building upgrades for your ship you can expand your operable area. First thing you need is an ice breaker to get past an ice barrier.

I had everything I needed to build this except a Spirit Flower. I spent several play sessions sailing around the ocean visiting points of interest looking for a Spirit Flower, and had no luck. That was frustrating and felt really tedious.

Simultaneously, my first spirit (Gwen) had gone missing from the boat. I was supposed to locate her. I found her, over and over again, at shops where she’d be buying yarn, but I think this was a bug. Yarn-buying Gwen wasn’t the Gwen I was supposed to find. I was finding “for flavor” Gwen when I need to find “Active NPC” Gwen.

Talking to Summer, who manifests as a snake.
Summer is having strange dreams…

Eventually I got frustrated enough that I turned to Google. Apparently the other spirits on the ship are supposed to give you clues to finding Gwen, but that never happened for me. Luckily once I knew where to find her, I went there, finished her questline, she passed on to the great beyond and suddenly a Spirit Flower appeared in her house. ARGH!

So yeah, I did those two things in the wrong order. Now I know. Now you know. You don’t harvest Spirit Flowers, you get them when spirits leave the ship for good. Also Gwen’s location, in retrospect, was pretty obvious in that we’d been there before, but for me the player that was like in August when I first started playing, and I’d forgotten. So kind of a perfect storm of bad results for me.

Anyway I’m not deleting Spiritfarer or anything like that, but I’ve pretty much determined this can’t be my “main game” but maybe like a “mellow out at the end of the evening” game I pick up now and then. But if you’re looking for a game that is chill and relaxing and quite pretty and often charming, this is a title that tics off all those boxes.

Finished Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe & The Blight Below

I talked a bit about Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe & The Blight Below in last month’s recap, and I said I had played enough of it. And I thought I had, but then I kept going back to it. Last night I finished it from the sense of seeing the “The End” screen. After that the game gives you a bunch more quests. Rather than being excited by that, I just felt daunted.

Just to repeat what I said in the recap, this is a Mosuo game like the Dynasty Warriors series. You and 3 NPC team mates take on hundreds of monsters at a time, and your attacks can hit 10 or 20 baddies, depending on how clustered they are. Each character has a few special skills/spells to use, and as you fight you build up a tension meter that, when maxed, let’s you go into a super-amped mode where spells don’t use mana and you’re more or less impervious to damage. At the end of this segment you have one final, often area-clearing, coup de grace attack.

Monsters that are defeated sometimes drop “Medals” that you can pick up and use to summon that type of monster to guard an area. This gives the game a bit of a tower defense element. These monsters won’t travel with you through a level, they just patrol the area you place them in.

You can control any of your party members, though I mostly stuck to my main hero, other than jumping to another to fire off their coup de grace now and then (the AI won’t use that ability).

The story is very linear. There are maybe 12 “playing fields” in the game that you’ll revisit often. It’s not a bad story but not super compelling either. The set up is that you live in a world where monsters and people are friends, until suddenly one day the monsters started attacking. The cause is the titular blight. The solution is to slaughter thousands of your former friends in your attempt to stop the advance of the blight on Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

You eventually have a stable of 13 (going from memory here) heroes to choose from. The Main Character is always in the party then you slot in the other 3 as you see fit. Characters not in the party get some experience, but not as much as those doing the fighting. As characters level up they get skill points you spend to make them more powerful. Early on you have some tough-ish choices to make in spending skill points, but eventually you get to where the updates are more subtle. Do I want 5 more health, or 5 more mana? That kind of thing. Every character gets geared up with a weapon, an ‘orb’ that acts as your armor, and accessories that you can craft from monster drops, though I didn’t do much with that.

There are some side quests but for the first 25 hours or so they are super low-effort. You’ll be asked to gather X quantity of rare monster drop Y or just to kill X quantity of monster type Z. To complete these quests you’ll revisit levels and fight infinitely spawning monsters until you chose to “evac”. I found this portion of the game super tedious and doing these is when I initially decided to quit.

Then, near the end of the game, suddenly you start getting quests with some narrative backstory. One character is getting married and you’re tasked with gathering items for the ceremony. Another character had a grimoire stolen and you need to track down the thieves and recover the tome. None of this was earth shattering but the associated missions had a start, middle and end, which made them MUCH more interesting to do than the earlier side quests. Some of them also require specific party members, which was the first time I’d bothered to change up my party. I have NO IDEA why they held this type of quest back until so late in the game; it would be a much strong title with more quests like these nearer the start of the game.

A screenshot of the combat in Dragon Quest Heroes. It's hard to make out what is going on (which is the point the image is trying to make), but there're a lot of damage numbers showing.
Combat becomes so chaotic you just have to swing and hope

OK so hopefully that gives you a vague idea of what the game is about and how it plays.

The weird thing is, I don’t know that I would recommend this game even though I kept going back to it. I think what appealed to me is just how kind of mindless it is. With election day coming up, and some difficult projects at work I’ve been feeling pretty stressed. DQH was something I could boot up and just work out my aggressions on without really putting much thought into it. The game isn’t very difficult (I suppose it could be if you rushed through it, I was doing all the boring side quests which leveled up my characters) and I mostly button-mashed my way through the whole thing. There is no death penalty. In fact if you fail a mission and give up, you still get to keep the experience and gold/items you accumulated up to the point you failed.

The big issue I have with it is that the UI is terrible, or at least terribly slow, in a lot of places. Yesterday I posted about how slow it is to refill healing potions, and that slowness appears in a lot of places. Lots of repeated, voiced, un-skippable dialog throughout the game. SO MANY “are you sure?” prompts on the simplest things.

The combat itself is so chaotic that you’ll either love it or hate it. This becomes more an issue as opponents get physically larger. The way the camera is set up you can’t look up very far, so you’ll be fighting monsters based on what you can see of their knees or something. In the final boss fight, the boss at one point starts to fly and I literally could only see the bottom of its feet.

Also all monsters of a type look exactly alike. So if you’re fighting 3 trolls (which are huge) you probably want to focus on one of them at a time. But if you lose track of that one — say you get knocked across the room by a troll club — when you get re-oriented it’s really hard to know which one you’d been fighting; monsters do have health bars but they’re up over their heads and if you can’t see the head, you can’t see the health bar. Similarly if you summon a monster, it looks exactly the same as the enemy monsters, though it does get a name. Problem is, if it is a tall monster you probably won’t be able to see the name (which, again, floats over its head).

So in the end I’d just give up and mash skills and attacks and wait for stuff to die. It was mindlessly entertaining. Which for me right now was enough, but I dunno that I’d suggest anyone else go out and track this game down.

Here’s more combat footage to put all this in perspective. It is long and boring so please, if you watch, skip around through it. You don’t want to sit through the whole thing, believe me!

Dragon Quest Heroes: QoL Issues

I’ve been playing through 2015’s Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below recently. Almost through with it I think, but I’ve nearly bounced off it several times due to really curious decisions with the UI that lead to simple things taking SO long to do. I get frustrated, jabbing a controller button, waiting for the game to let me move on.

Finally just to be “that guy” (I mean, it’s a 7 year old game, it isn’t like it’s going to get patched at this point) I recorded the process of refilling your “healing stones” (which is essentially the same thing as buying healing potions in other games).

Here is that that looks like:

October 2022

We had a little bit of a shakeup happen this month at Dragonchasers. My Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription ended as of October 28th.

So first of all, why did I let this happen? Mostly it had to do with Playstation Plus Premium. When Sony rolled out their new ‘subscription service’ tiers for Playstation Plus, I wanted to try them but I had banked about a year of old-school PS+ time via sales and so forth. I had to convert this time to Playstation Plus Premium which cost me around $60, but it set me up with PS+P until next July.

It turns out that having TWO “play all you want” subscriptions feels kind of wasteful. I only have so many hours to play games, right? And since PS+ was paid for, it seemed to make the most sense to let Xbox Game Pass lapse, at least to see how that felt. I knew I might get too much FOMO from this but I figured, if nothing else Black Friday is coming so maybe I could get a good deal on it if I took a break even for a month.

All that said, for me Xbox Game Pass is a far better value than PS+ Extra or PS+ Premium. Microsoft regularly adds new games to the library, and I mean new both in terms of “new to Game Pass” and “newly released”. Sony, so far at least, adds games once a month and they are predominantly older titles. There’ve been 1 or 2 exceptions like Stray, but for example in October these were the games added to Playstation+ Extra:

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City — The Definitive Edition
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Assassin’s Creed 3 Remastered
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age — Definitive Edition
Dragon Quest Builders
Dragon Quest Builders 2
Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below
Dragon Quest Heroes 2: Explorer’s Edition
Inside
Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker
Hohokum
The Medium (PS5)

So one additional new-ish PS5 game (The Medium is fairly new to PS5 though was on Game Pass long ago) and one new-ish (Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker launched at the end of August) PS4 game, then a bunch of older titles from last generation.

In the same month Microsoft added Scorn, A Plague Tail: Requiem, Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed & Medieval Dynasty to Game Pass, all of which are new games. (This is not all they added, just the new titles I can think of off-hand.)

In spite of all this, the optimistic plan was to run with PS+ Premium until it expired then go back to Game Pass.

In the end, it took me less than 24 hours to resubscribe to Game Pass. A lot of this is because I forgot that without Xbox Live Gold I couldn’t play Elder Scrolls Online (which, tho I never mention it in these recaps, is a game I play pretty consistently at a low level). So I needed Gold anyway, and once you have Gold you can upgrade to Game Pass Ultimate for $15, no matter how much Gold you have banked. So I bought a 1 year Gold subscription from Amazon for $60, then I bought seven 3-month Gold subscriptions using MS Rewards points. That left me with Xbox Live Gold until July 2025! Then I bought a 1-month Game Pass Ultimate subscription (also with MS Rewards points) which converted all that Gold time to GPU time. End result, I now have Game Pass Ultimate through August 2025 and I spent $60 out of pocket (plus a lot of time spent idly clicking on things with my coffee every morning in order to earn MS Rewards points.)

Pretty good deal.

Anyway on to the recap.

Last Month’s Games

Genshin Impact took up a good chunk of my October before I finally bounced off it. Overall I played this game nearly exclusively for about 8 weeks. The first 6 weeks were SO much fun as I sat alone in the corner with my PS5, noodling around in the world of Teyvat doing whatever seemed fun at the time. Then I started getting drawn into conversations about the game and the ‘right’ way to play, while at about the same time I decided I was going to try to max out the monthly Battle Pass. Net result: instead of wandering around the world having fun, I was logging in, doing my daily commissions then focusing on most efficiently burning through my daily resin allotment in such a way as to max out my progress both of my characters and of the Battle Pass. It didn’t take long for this to begin to feel like a total chore and for me to start playing GI just as a daily commitment I wanted to get out of the way as quickly as possible. Once I hit the end of the Battle Pass I was done. So I’m setting Genshin Impact aside for a while. I hope someday to come back to it and play it for fun again because I was having an utterly lovely time before I decided to “git gud.” (I dunno why I do this to myself but I do it often.)

Spiritfarer I am still playing, barely. One or two sessions all month. I would still like to get back to it so I don’t want to let it go. We’ll see what happens; I might have to let this one go next month if I don’t re-engage more significantly.

Yakuza 0 is a Game Pass game so I dropped it once I’d accepted that I was going to let my sub run out. Now that I reversed that decision, I have to decide if I want to bring it back into rotation.

Destiny 2 has fallen by the wayside. Not for any particular reason. I think Genshin just pushed a lot of games out of my limited brain capacity and Destiny 2 was one of them.

Cyberpunk 2077 never really got going but I did purchase it so I might get back to it. I’m on the fence with it. I think I just need to decide to devote 4-5 hours to really getting going into it so I get to the good stuff.

New Games This Month

Beacon Pines is a strange little game that is part choose-your-own-adventure story and part point & click adventure. The game is framed as a story book and at certain times a page of text will come up that describe decision points. You have to fill in a blank, Mad-Libs style, but you can only choose words that you’ve collected via exploring. The twist is that at any time you can (and I think, will have to) ‘rewind’ the story to an earlier decision point and try something new. Frequently by this time you’ll have found new words (eg new choices to try).

Might be a case where a picture is worth 1000 words…

Beacon Times node tree Beacon Pines book page

It’s a very chill game (honestly, the challenge level is quite low), though also kind of creepy at times. I found the story to be really enjoyable, and at around 5-6 hours it’s the kind of game you can easily play through in a weekend. I think I finished it in 3 sessions over the course of the month. Recommended.

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is something I bought back in 2015 and never really played. When I saw it and its sequel were coming to PS+ Extra I decided to dust it off and give it another go to see if I maybe wanted to play the sequel. I put about 18 hours into it playing it seriously, but then I started to get a little bored. It is predominantly a musou game (think Dynasty Warriors or Sauron in the flashback battle at the start of Fellowship… it is you against dozens or hundreds of enemies, but each swing sends 10 or 20 baddies flying) with a bit of tower defense in the form of placing ‘tamed’ enemies to defend areas.

Shot of a chaotic battle in Dragon Quest Heroes

It is fun, but musou isn’t a favorite genre for me and after a while I needed a break and I thought I was done with it. A few days later I was back. So now I’m playing a level or two (which is like 15-30 minutes) every other day or so. That feels like a sweet spot for me and this genre.

Here’s 5 minutes of random combat. Don’t watch it all, you’ll get bored. But this shows the kind of game it is. All the combat feels pretty much like this!

The story, such that it is, feels really shallow. The side quests are super-low effort, along the lines of “go replay earlier areas until you kill 75 of enemy X” with zero narrative hanging off them. There are a ton of characters so if you love just grinding through enemies in this type of game you might really like it. There’s also some real QOL issues. Lots of talking to NPCs that should just be menu items. Some dialogs that you can’t manually advance through and just have to wait for the game to decide you’re done reading them. Things like that. Good reasons to quit playing. And yet… I keep going back.

Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is another game I bought a long time ago. At launch it had a ton of technical issues so I just set it aside. Genshin Impact had me in an anime mood so I decided to give it another go. So far, not loving it. The first 10-15 hours are just clicking through dialogs and cut scenes which re-tell the anime. Every so often you’ll fight an enemy. At one point I went 2 hours trying to get to where I could make a hard save but it was just cut-scene, dialog, cut-scene, dialog with no opportunity to get to a save point. TWO HOURS.

Kirito and friends arrive in a small village.  It is night and rain is falling

Once the game finally “opened up” I was so sour on it I didn’t care any more, and I’m having a lot of trouble understanding the combat system (there were some tutorials but they were so long ago I’ve forgotten what they said) although so far button mashing has worked fine. I think there are far better RPGs out there to play, so this one is going back into the backlog.

This month there was all kinds of fuss made about Fallout having an anniversary so that somehow translated to me booting up Fallout 3 again. I’ve never finished it, and for once I resisted the urge to start over, so I’m level 7 or so, wandering the wasteland shooting stuff in the face and selling everything I can carry. The game runs really well (as you’d expect) on the Xbox. It’s not something I can spent 3 hours playing, but it’s a fun game to just dip into here and there. Maybe I’ll actually finish it someday. Not that I can remember what my goals are!

TV

She-Hulk ended up being really good after a somewhat slow start (for me). Mind you if you’re very serious about your Marvel content you might take exception to the more light-hearted tone (and 4th wall breaking) in the series, but I found it an absolute delight.

Sticking with the House of the Mouse, Andor is also really good, only here my caution is exactly the opposite. If you enjoy Star Wars because it is generally fairly ‘light’ then Andor might be a bit gritty for your tastes. But hey, it has the first Star Wars booty call that I am aware of.

I almost gave up on House of the Dragon after the first few episodes but I’m glad I didn’t. About half-way through, there’s a time jump (and some of the actors are replaced since the characters have aged) and at that point the series gets really good. There’s a bit less of the gratuitous and over-the-top violence and the story gets much more interesting. It is still for the most part a political drama though. If you’re tuning in primarily for lots of sword fights and dragon flame, you might be disappointed. I can’t wait for season 2. Someone please confirm we’re getting a season 2!!

Sadly Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power never really found its stride for me. I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and writing the recap of it now, a few weeks after the last episode, honestly I can hardly remember it. I do kind of feel like a more binge-ish re-watch might help me to get more out of it. We watched 2 episodes at a time with 2 weeks between each session, which probably did the show no favors.

Tales from the Explorer’s Club (Discovery) is a ‘light’ documentary show talking about the real-life adventures of members of The Explorer’s Club, an organization that’s been around for over 100 years. It’s hosted by Josh Gates who we’ve watched since he came on the scene with a silly cryptid/paranormal show on SyFy called Destination Truth. These days he deals with topics closer to reality, like some of the first polar explorations or exploring the depths of the ocean. This one was quite a surprise and we enjoyed it a lot. Sadly there are only 6 episodes.

Star Trek: The Lower Decks was amazing. It is always amazing. It’s renewed for another season too, which is also amazing!

Star Trek Voyager is really kind of dumb. I’d forgotten how dumb it is and how many huge plot holes there are in it. It is getting a little better now that we’re into season 3, but seasons 1 & 2 were like “Waaa?” constantly

Reading

OMG I finished a book. Cibola Burn is the storyline that takes place on Ilus, which I thought was a great season of the show, and the book was pretty great too. Now I’ve started Nemesis Games. I didn’t like that season of the show too much so we’ll see if I find the book more interesting.

So that’s October and good lord, I need to start doing mid-month recaps or something. This is way way too long!

September 2022

Today I put a sweatshirt on for the first time since March or April. It was awesome! Granted it had more to do with staying dry (Hurricane Ian is drenching us) than staying warm, but it is a step in the right direction. Tolerable weather is just around the corner!

Anyway, on to the recap.

Last Month’s Games

Something new I’m trying this month, because these recaps aren’t already way too long, is following up on the games from last month’s recap that I didn’t finish, and to check in to see what’s going on with them this month. In part this is to try to get me to be a little more deliberate in what I play. Sometimes I still WANT to play something but the game gets pushed to the back burner until I’ve been away from it for too long to re-engage easily. I figure if I make public choices about what I’m still playing and what I’m done with, that might help. We’ll see.

So anyway last month’s unfinished business consisted of:

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom. This one I finished early in the month and wrote a post about it. TLDR I think I would have enjoyed it more had I played it differently (focused more on the story quests rather than trying to do every side quest).

Tribes of Midgard — I played once or twice. After being hot on this game for 4-5 days I may be done with it, for now. I’ve beaten 3 of the 4 big Jotuns and I think there’s some baddies even bigger than those that comes after, but I’ve also upgraded all my crafting stations and stuff and it’s all starting to feel kind of same-y. Plus the last straw might be frustration with the world design. The maps exist on 3 or 4 levels with ramps that lead you up and down between them, but terrain is so chaotic you can spend a lot of time looking for a way to climb up to the next level. Initially that was kind of fun but now it’s a PITA. You CAN build stairs to go up but there’s a finite limit on the number of structures you can place in the world so leaving stairs behind might cause issues later on.

Basically I gave Tribes of Midgard a shot when they revamped Survival Mode and what we have now feels almost like an Early Access game. The basics are there and decently fun but (assuming the devs keep working on the game) I think it’ll be a better game after a few more patches/updates, so for now I’ve taken it out of rotation while anticipating that I’ll come back to it some day.

My Ascent character looking kind of...meh

I jumped back into The Ascent around mid-month and it’s a pretty good game, but I had just enough issues with it to decide to set it aside. For me it is a little uncomfortable to play on console. The levels are cluttered with tons of details and twisty paths but they’re all just a tad too small for my old eyes to parse. It feels like it was designed to be played on PC and is probably a great game on that platform. (Gamers with younger, stronger eyes than me may not have the same issues on console.) I also find the loot system a little bland and the character model for my character is not great. In the end something has to give, and I wanted to finally give Cyberpunk 2077 a try so needed to free up a slot in my schedule. So I think I’m done with The Ascent and probably won’t come back to this one, unless I get on a PC gaming kick and play it over there. Even though I’m leaving it behind I would recommend it if you like dual-stick shooters and cyberpunk worlds. Particularly if you’re a PC gamer and will be playing it from 2 feet, rather than 10 feet, away.

Spiritfarer – I haven’t been playing this as much as anticipated but every time I do I enjoy myself. So this one stays in rotation. I’m actually not sure WHY I’m not playing it more, other than being obsessed with other games.

Kiryu looking confused as he teases apart a complex plot line

Yakuza 0 has been a real slow burn. I keep thinking it is time to kick it to the curb then I boot it up ‘one last time’ and have fun and keep it around. So that’s where it is, out on the edge but still in rotation.

Destiny 2 — I had planned to play a LOT of Destiny 2 in September but then Genshin Impact happened and knocked D2 right out of the running. Still in rotation, though!

Genshin Impact took over my life this month. Still very much in rotation! Heck it kind of IS the rotation!

New Games This Month

The Artful Escape was a single-day game that I rather enjoyed. Here’s the post about it.

Like so many others I jumped into Cyberpunk:Edgerunners on Netflix and caught the bug. With Cyberpunk 2077 being on sale for half-price and the general buzz being that it has been fixed, I decided it was time to finally jump in. I created a character and did the tutorials and then… well not to sound like a broken record but… Genshin Impact!

Steamworld: Heist: Every so often I get the urge to break out the Switch and play something on it. This month that ‘something’ is Steamworld Heist, a game about robotic space pirates. It’s a funny little game. Turn-based but you have to aim your shots and these bots have really unsteady aim.

So yes, a very boring gaming recap this month. I’ve been playing Genshin every night, generally logging in to get daily tasks done before I move on to playing something else, then I get involved and before I know it, it is bedtime.

TV

With Star Trek: Deep Space 9 finished, we rolled right into Star Trek: Voyager. I have so many issues with this show in terms of the arc and plot holes. If Voyager is traveling in one direction towards home for all this time, how is it they keep running into the same characters over and over again? Wouldn’t they be leaving these people behind? How does Neelix (god there is SO much of the super annoying Neelix) know about every place they go? It’d be like me knowing the best place to get pizza in Tokyo since I am from earth. But hey, it’s our lunchtime viewing and we tend towards ‘don’t think about it too much’ content at lunch.

Fort Salem: Motherland (Hulu/Freeform) is an alternate history show where the Salem witches reached an accord with the government. In exchange for not being executed, they would serve the US military (or I guess, what would become the US military since the witch trials took place while the colonies were still colonies). The show follows a group of young witches at Fort Salem (in more or less present day) which is basically a military academy but for witches.

It’s a really interesting premise but I couldn’t get past the main characters being very “understanding” about welcoming a terrorist who killed hundreds of innocent people, brushing it off as “You did what you thought was right.” There are 3 seasons. We watched them all (SOMEONE in the house liked the show a lot more than I did). S2 was the strongest, S3 was a trainwreck. S1 was somewhere in between.

LOTR: The Rings of Power (Amazon Prime) & House of Dragons (HBO): I’m lumping these two together because I have the same feelings about both. I WANT to love them but I’m still on the fence with both of them. I think Rings of Power will be a lot better when I can go back and do a binge re-watch. @partpurple isn’t too excited about the show so I’ve been using my bi-weekly movie-night pick to watch 2 eps every 2 weeks and it doesn’t exactly flow, watching it like that. House of Dragons just doesn’t seem to be able to decide what it wants to be: a political drama or a super-violent, super-gross ‘edgey’ show. Hopefully they’ll sort that out but for now I’m kind of meh on it.

Star Trek: The Lower Decks is amazing in Season 3, as it has been in Seasons 1 & 2.

She-Hulk is another show I’m struggling to get past the @partpurple censor. I like it, I think she is lukewarm on it. But again I feel like I’m going to want to go back and binge it.

In general I kind of feel like I’ve lost the ability to really enjoy a show in the traditional ‘1 episode per week’ way. I’m just all-in on picking a show and watching it start to finish. I feel like I get a lot more enjoyment that way.

There’s a lot more TV but not much worth discussing. I mean I could talk about Casey Jones, starring Alan Hale (which originally aired in 1957) but I doubt that would resonate with many readers. I’m getting a kick out of it, though. It might just be the novelty of seeing Alan Hale playing someone other than The Skipper on Gilligan’s Island.

Reading

*crickets*

I’ve been playing on the Switch before bed. I have started to sneak in a bit of reading while out with Lola now that it is getting a bit cooler and we can just find a spot and chill, but I haven’t actually finished a book in months. Haven’t even been reading old-timey comics this month!

So that’s September in the books. Now to endure 31 days of ‘spooky’ stuff happening. I like Halloween well enough but I think like a week of any holiday is plenty. I don’t need 31 days of Halloween or Christmas or any other holiday. Though maybe 31 days of Thanksgiving would be fun: all those turkey dinners!

Genshin Impact and I have our first fight.

I’ve been playing Genshin Impact for a bit over a month now. I know because I bought a 30 day ‘subscription’ thingie that awards 90 Primogems every day and I had to buy a second one a few days ago. Needless to say, I’m enjoying my time with the game.

But last weekend I hit my first bad patch. Me and the game had our first fight. It happened when I hit two road blocks at the same time, leaving me feeling, for the first time, like I had to play the way the devs wanted me to play, rather than how I wanted to.

Road Block #1

So first, I hit Adventure Level 25. (Adventure Level is like the level of your account as a whole, and is separate from Character Levels). In order to go past 25 you are forced to do a quest which is basically a trial of sorts. The recommended party level for this was 35 but my party was much lower level, around their mid-20s.

Let me digress and talk about leveling in Genshin Impact. While you do get experience from combat, it is a trivial amount. The bulk of your leveling comes from consuming items that drop from chests and are given out as quest rewards and such. You can apply these to your various characters as you see fit. Or if you are me, you will HORDE them until your characters just cannot make any more progress without being leveled up. I love that I can basically choose my difficulty this way. Content doesn’t get trivial because I don’t spend these experience consumables to over-level my characters.

At least, not until Adventure Level 25. I tried to beat the quest as I was and nope, no way. So I leveled everyone to 35; a jump of 10 levels or so in one swoop. I hated doing that. And I still couldn’t beat the quest. I leveled everyone to 40. STILL couldn’t beat it.

More digression: it isn’t just characters that you level up. You can level weapons and artifacts, too (artifacts basically take the place of armor slots). And guess what? My party was under-leveled on both weapons and artifacts. But again, I’d been hording the materials to level these things up so I jumped everyone’s weapons and artifacts up quite a bit.

Finally I was able to beat the quest. By the time I got to that point I’d accumulated enough Adventure Experience that my Adventure Level jumped from 25 to 28.

So the good news: I was past the dead-end. The bad news: I felt like I’d been robbed of the fun of 10 levels of progression and now I’m dealing with some trivial content, which kind of stinks.

Road Block #2

In and around doing this, I was doing a quest line on Dragon Spine Mountain. A part of this quest was a challenge where I have X amount of time to kill a bunch of ice monsters. This takes place near water and in an environment where the bitter cold will start to drain your health if you don’t stay warm. This is SUCH an infuriating challenge. Either the ice mobs stun-lock me via their freeze attacks, or I fall into the water and lose time and health (due to the cold) or I just start taking damage from the cold. I can beat the baddies, but just not before the timer runs out.

I am still stuck on this one even with my massively over-leveled characters. I take some comfort in the fact that the Internet is full of complaints about this particular challenge. This isn’t technically a road block as, to the best of my knowledge, this quest isn’t gating any additional content. It was just frustrating to be dealing with it at the same time as the actual AR 25 road block.

Then We Made Up

Anyway I got past this tough patch and I’m back to having a great time. It isn’t a perfect game, of course. But it is close to perfect for me, for right now. It has become one of those zen games. I log in, get my Primogems, do my four daily commissions, collect my expeditions, do some mining, then start working on Story Quests or whatever. I rarely finish the story quests because I’m constantly being distracted by other fun things to do.

The world feels huge (to me, so far) and I really enjoy the soundtrack. There are things to find everywhere. Chests and challenges and puzzles and NPCs to help out. There are ample fast travel destinations so while the world is huge for exploring, it isn’t tedious to get around when you’re focused on doing on thing.

If I could change one thing about Genshin Impact it would be the female characters (at least the ones you get for free just from playing, which I assume have been around since launch). The female characters are either screechy little girls in that creepy Eastern way of showing them in revealing clothes, or they are “mature” characters doing the (in one case literally) sexy librarian schtick. “Oooo, aren’t you a naughty boy?” and comments along those lines.

They’re constantly adding new characters and it seems like the newer characters are more diverse. For instance here is the teaser for Candace, who is coming soon:

Compare her to someone like Klee who was introduced a couple years ago (just after launch, it seems):

I guess some folks find Klee cute but I find her grating. Fortunately I have Amber who isn’t annoying and bonus points for being a bad-ass archer.

And of course there is Paimon. Paimon, who floats around in her bloomers, screeching her screechy voice at everyone while referring to herself in the third person. I HATED Paimon when I started playing. But y’know what? She is growing on me. If I can just take the sound of her voice and lock it in a little box and put it in a deep well, what she actually SAYS can be amusing (thank you, sub-titles). In a lot of ways Paimon seems to represent the player, because she is always skeptical of what is going on in the same way you probably are when you are playing. Like all those fetch quests where you’re thinking “Jeez this NPC is lazy” but you still gotta do the quest? Paimon is right there, calling out the NPC for being lazy and just trying to get us to be its errand-runner.

I can’t believe I’ve come ’round to where I like Paimon, but that’s the world I’m living in.

Yeah, I dunno what it is but I can’t stop playing this silly game.

The Artful Escape

Here’s another title that I decided to try based on the fact that it was leaving Xbox Game Pass soon. The Artful Escape is (kind of) a game where you play as the nephew of a famous folk musician who is, for reasons never really made clear, expected to follow in the footsteps of his uncle. And while he is a capable folk musician, in his heart there dwells a shrieking electric guitar rocker.

When a mysterious woman hears him shredding, she gives him a nudge that leads him on a psychedelic trip of self-discovery.

Scene from a fake late-night talk show
Things do get weird after a while…

So a few important facts. First, The Artful Escape is very short. Four or five hours long, and it has no more ‘replay value’ than a book or a movie. In other words, the only reason to play a second time is if you want to experience the story again. I played for a few hours this morning, broke for lunch and to do a few errands, then finished this afternoon AND I got all the Achievements. Too bad Xbox doesn’t have Platinum Trophies.

Second, it is barely a game. You move along a prescribed path with some very very light platforming (sometimes you have to double jump!) and there are sections where you have to play a Simon-like copy-cat “press the buttons in the order I pressed them” mini-game. These segments eventually get a little challenging as things speed up but I felt like the developers made this all fairly forgiving. I’m pretty sure a few times it let me “pass” the challenge after like 3 fails even though I didn’t nail it perfectly.

But there is really no exploring or puzzle-solving or anything like that. You have some multiple choice options here and there but they seem to be only for ‘flavor.’

Here’s a random 60 seconds of gameplay to give you an idea of what the experience looks and sounds like:

So yeah, basically it’s an interactive story, but a pretty entertaining one. You really need to enjoy jamming electric guitars though, as this kind of music plays a HUGE role in the game. Also I’d suggest playing with headphones and the volume cranked up.

Oh, and probably worth noting the voice talent is quite good, with some names most of us would recognize (Carl Weathers and Lena Headey).

The first 20 minutes or so, while you’re still in your sleepy little home town, are kind of sleepy periods of the game but things pick up after that. In the middle I started to get a little bored. When I stopped for lunch I was almost thinking “OK I’ve seen enough of this.” but after a break I came back and soon it was clear that the story was starting to move towards a culmination which convinced me to stick around and I’m glad I did.

So yeah, if you don’t mind the length (and I’m glad it wasn’t any longer), I’d probably recommend this one. Pay for it like you would a movie or something. Whatever you feel comfortable spending on a movie, spend on this game. If I had to put a price on it I’d say like $10. Probably you will spend your 4-5 hours on it then never play it again.

I have to say it felt kind of awesome starting and finishing a game on the same day. I wish there were more quality short games like this one! Also Bhagpuss, if you’re reading this, I kept thinking of you and your music posts while I was playing. I’d be really interested to hear what you thought of The Artful Escape!

Francis starring at a concert

How Ni No Kuni 2 Ruined Labor Day

Last weekend was a 3-day weekend for many of us here in the US: Labor Day weekend. I had been almost desperately looking forward to it for over a month. I REALLY hate my job so an extra day off is always very much anticipated and my head was full of half-made plans about what I would do with that glorious extra day of me-time.

Instead of any of those plans, I spent the whole weekend playing Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom. That would’ve been fine if I’d been playing because I was really enjoying myself, but no. I was playing because it was one of those instances when a game just gets stuck in my craw and I can’t let it go until I finish it. For some reason I just felt like I needed to complete this game, and I never really understand my brain when it does this. Partly it was because I wanted to see what happened, partly because I’d already put 30 hours into it (over several months) and I wanted some kind of a return on that investment (said return being the satisfaction of finishing). I don’t think either of those reasons are enough to explain my behavior, though.

So yeah, I spent the whole weekend playing a game I wasn’t super-excited about playing and, to throw salt in the wound, I still didn’t finish it. Last night (Wednesday) I finally did. Golly I’m glad that’s over. (See, I’ve been playing it so much I say things like “Golly” and “Gosh” now.)

And before I get much further I need to add that it isn’t that Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is a bad game. Not at all. It’s got an 87/100 rating at Open Critic. Most people really liked it. I just didn’t enjoy the tone (constant breathless enthusiasm) plus I played it “wrong”. If I could send a message back to my younger-by-a-few-months self about this game I would send this: “Do not do that thing where you try to clear all the side quests before advancing the main story, and consider playing on Hard difficulty.”

My usual methodical way of playing a game is to work on the lowest level side quests first, and work my way up until all that I can do are completed, then I work on the main story. Because I did this in Ni No Kuni 2, most of my 40-50 hours of playing were easy-mode since I was over powered for the content I was doing. What finally broke me out of that mode was when (at around 30 hours) a Trophy popped up for completing 50 side quests. That prompted me to check the Unearned Trophy list and I found there were trophies for completing 100 & 150 side quests! No way I was going to spend 90 hours doing side quests, so I just started to focus on the main story.

Once I did this I quickly caught up to where content was a bit harder which made the game more enjoyable but by that time the damage was done and I was already bored and in “let’s just finish this” mode. Plus I’d essentially forgotten how a lot of the game systems worked since I’d just been button-mashing and breezing through content since June. There were a lot of things I’d either forgotten or never learned I could do, like improving weapons and spells and leveling up the sickeningly cute little creatures that fight with you. Higglies or Higgledies or something. Useful but SO annoying.

But hey, it is done now. I’m glad it is done. And yet there’s a tickle in my brain that says “Next time I should play on Hard mode.” Like I said, it’s not a bad game and I think it could be a lot better with the challenge cranked up from the very start.

Here’s a battle with a dragon to celebrate the finish. Mind you I thought this level 50 beasties was the top of the monster food chain but nope. By the time I completed the game my characters were in their high-50s and the final boss was I think level 72 or something. (Don’t quote me on that.) So this guy was just a little fella.